As the U.S. and Iran continue their geopolitical chess match in Syria, the Wall Street Journal has written an absorbing and detailed profile of one of the region’s most important players: Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani commands the elite Qods Force, a network of soldiers and spies operating overseas to advance Tehran’s agenda.
Soleimani is believed to be the mastermind behind the decision to train and arm Shiite militias in Iraq during the American occupation. Last October, after it emerged that Iran was behind a plot to blow up the Saudi Arabian ambassador at a cafe in Washington DC, Soleimani was indicted by the Justice Department for his alleged role in the operation. Now, the Journal says his attention, along with that of Washington, has shifted to Syria:
In January, Gen. Soleimani—commander of Iran’s elite overseas forces—traveled in secret to Damascus to meet with Syria’s president and architect of that nation’s bloody and continuing Arab Spring crackdown. At the meeting, Gen. Soleimani agreed to send more military aid and reaffirmed Iran’s close friendship, according to U.S. and Arab officials.
In February, American officials detected four Iranian jets ferrying munitions to Syria. On Sunday the Obama administration announced it would start providing communications equipment to Syria’s opposition, while Arab states committed to paying the salaries of rebel fighters.
Soleimani has been described variously as an “evil genius”, “public enemy No. 1 in the Arab Spring,” and has even been compared to a character from a John Le Carre spy novel. But while there is widespread agreement on Soleimani’s ability and influence, officials and analysts are split as to whether Soleimani is a pragmatic deal-maker or a revolutionary zealot. He has been known to cooperate with the U.S. when their interests have overlapped in the past: for instance, he suggested that Iran support U.S. efforts to topple the Taliban after September 11.
Those days are long gone. Bereft of allies, Iran desperately needs the Assad regime to remain in power. Expect Soleimani and his Iranian colleagues to do everything they can to ensure the Syrian domino is not the next to fall.